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'Stranger stalking' protection orders proposed amid fears of increase in cases

Stranger stalking is feared to be on the rise due to the growing use of social media and internet chat rooms. Credit: PA

Ministers have launched a consultation on measures to protect victims of 'stranger stalking' amid fears the internet is fuelling an increase in cases.

The protection orders could help those targeted by stalkers outside of domestic settings and deter perpetrators before their fixations become "entrenched", the Home Office consultation says.

The legislation would also enable authorities to take steps to keep victims safe while gathering evidence for prosecution.

Officials said this should mean stalking is addressed earlier, giving protection to complainants ahead of cases reaching the courts.

The consultation document says stranger stalking, which could include a patient becoming fixated on their doctor or originate from online interaction on social media or chat rooms, may be increasing.

One reason for this could be that a growing usage of social networking and online communities may increase the opportunity for people to 'meet' and interact in some way," it says.

The internet can also "facilitate the ability for an individual to discover information about a person they are interested in", the document says.

This behaviour may become "extreme", it adds. In one case Elliot Fogel googled the name of victim Claire Waxman 40,000 times in a year.

Being stalked by a stranger can have terrifying consequences and we want to make sure victims have protection in place early to give the police time to gather evidence in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

– Karen Bradley, minister for preventing abuse and exploitation

Stalking became a specific criminal offence in England and Wales for the first time in November 2012.

More than 1,100 prosecutions were brought under the legislation in 2014/15, a rise of nearly 50% compared with the previous year.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which manages the National Stalking Helpline, welcomed the consultation and said that more than half (55%) of those who contact the helpline are stalked by an acquaintance or stranger.

These groups of people are unable to utilise certain protection measures designed to help people experiencing domestic abuse, such as non-molestation orders and domestic violence protection orders.

A stalking protection order may be especially helpful for victims of stalking who are being stalked by someone they have not had a relationship with.

– Spokesperson for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust